Characterisation Ideas

Characters are the obvious backbone to your writing, no matter what the style is: play, novel, film or TV script, even a simple comedy sketch. So getting them right is clearly the thing you should be working on.

Characterisation is something I am notoriously bad at. In my novella, An Icy Collision, the characters feel like people I vaguely know as opposed to BFFs. My NaNoWriMo 2014’s downfall was, in my opinion, not knowing my characters well enough – I didn’t even know my MC’s skin colour!

I haven’t tried all of these tips you’re about to read, but I would suggest giving them ago. If you want, you could always let me know what happens, because I always love to hear from you. I’ll have a go at these, too, perhaps in one of the exercise books I recently bought. Let’s see what happens, eh?

  • The name game. I saw this in Writing Magazine. Write out your character’s name vertically down a page. Then, next to each letter, write something they like that begins with that letter! (Good luck if their name is Xander.) After you’ve done that, write something they dislike next to each letter again.
  • Go character image referencing. For An Icy Collision, one thing I did do was go picture hunting and now I have various files with captions like ‘Ariane’s eyes’ or ‘Meryll’s mouth’. Pretend that you’re trying to recreate their face for a police investigation and enjoy finding different parts of them you might not have thought of before.
  • Make a meal in their style. Even go out shopping for ingredients. And, though this bit may make you sound crazy, talk to your character/s as you go around the supermarket or even as you’re cooking, get their hints and ideas, whilst learning how they talk to one another and to you as the author. Do they become incredibly sarcastic when you mess up? Perhaps you would never have known this if you hadn’t had dinner with them!
  • Talk to them. Preferably alone. Why preferably alone? Your friends can’t communicate with your characters in the same way you can. Just get a list of questions, sit down and ask aloud what you want the answer to. It might take a while for you to get into your stride, but you’ll make it.
  • Write short stories about them. Say your character loves Harry Potter. Put them in Hogwarts! See how they react, what happens. You’ll learn a lot and it’ll be great fun too.

So here you are, just some ideas about your characters that you might want to use.

I’m going to start planning my second novella in the series from the 16th February (half term here!) – it seems like I’m going to have some fun with my characters that week! Why don’t you join me? We can have a week of character development!

Questions, thoughts? Shoot! 😀 

Looking Forward

There comes a time, especially during NaNoWriMo, where you dread sitting down to write each night. Your characters are driving you bananas, the plot is going nowhere, and you just can’t be bothered.

Writing isn’t just the act of putting words on a page, or typing them on a screen. Like a film, so much more happens behind the big screen than on it.

When you’re feeling low and you hate your characters so much you want to kill every single one, it’s hard to get back into it. Stop. Right there, stop. Even if you’re enjoying your novel, stop!

Sometimes, you need to slow the pace to avoid this happening as well, whilst other times it’s already begun. Don’t worry; you can reverse this effect and love your book again.

Whilst in NaNo the ideas below aren’t possible most of the time if you’re really busy, you can still try these things if only for a minute or two; and if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, these can still help. All can be done before, during or after your novel/novella/epic/script are in the works!

  • Draw your characters. Can’t draw? Eh, skip this step. Got a friend who can draw? Oh, look, I just enticed you back! Even if you can’t draw yourself, try asking a buddy if they’ll draw your characters (perhaps they’ll do it for cookies). If you can draw, then yay, you can do it yourself. If you do have a buddy, sit with them as they draw; make sure they’re all right with you telling them exactly how you want it to be. Bonding, and character development!
  • Write back ground stories/AUs/just extra stories. Background stories are something that the reader often doesn’t get to see (such as JKR with Umbridge…although she published that). AU’s stand for Alternate Universes – if you’re writing in the past, set your characters up in the present day and see how they react!
  • Chat to someone about your novel. Look, it doesn’t matter if it’s the dog, but you might be able to find out so much more about your characters, plot and setting. Make sure you have a notebook on hand! It helps if they’re a writer; they might be able to toss ideas back at you.
  • Read. What is more relaxing? …and, of course, it tells you how the pros craft their work. Obviously. (Seriously though, wouldn’t you like to be holding a paperback copy of your own book in your hands?!)
  • Watch a film. Now, this is technically procrastinating, but this time grab a film that you’ve already watched and a notebook. Make a note of any time it changes setting, character, what happens; all ideas for your novel, or if it’s a script you’re writing, equally as helpful!
  • Write a letter to your characters – or even your novel! This can help with understanding your characters needs and wants, and your needs and wants. It might make you feel stupid writing to a book, but it can help you gain confidence, you’re still writing, and you can understand your work better. Besides, you might realise that you don’t, in fact, hate your work; just a strong dislike that will pass over in the near future.

I hope these ideas have given you some fuel for your fire. It’s week three of NaNoWriMo, so if you have a spare moment, jot down some thoughts to your characters, or have a chat whilst with your next door neighbour over the fence. You don’t have to constantly breathe your novel, but thinking about it as you go about your day-to-day business – providing it’s in a positive light! – might help you to look forward to writing when you get home.

Questions, comments, thoughts? Shoot! 😀
PS – How’s NaNoWriMo going for you?

We Could Be So Many People… [Cue Heather Small]

In writing, we can be anyone we want: a Starlord, a dog, a boy from Afghanistan, a girl from America, even an inanimate object. But something that all of these things have in common when you choose your narrator is the point of view it’s coming from.

You can go with first person, which would tell us exactly what’s happening as they go about their day to day business, but only theirs.

You can go with second person, which would let the reader imagine exactly what is happening, as it’s as if it’s instructing you. That sentence was written in second person.

You can go with third person, which could give more information about surrounded scenarios and other characters.

But which one would be best? Well, that depends on what affect you would like to have on the audience.

The differences between the ‘persons’ are the pronouns they use. Other things come into affect, of course (such as other information and how much you give away), but today I’m going to talk about the basics of the different ‘persons’ as well as their pros and cons.

First Person – uses ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’, ‘us’ and ‘we’.
Pros

  • Can offer insight into the main character (MC)’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Can help the reader to identify and relate to the MC.
  • Easier to portray the world around them (eg in The Hunger Games) and other character’s personalities – but, this is only from the MC’s point of view, so they could be biased.

Cons

  • If something happens elsewhere, when the MC is not present, then another character will have to narrate it to them, which can become tedious.
  • Along with the tediousness, ‘I’ can become repetitive.
  • If the character is not interesting and varied enough – or without character development – then the reader can get bored.

Second person – uses ‘you’, ‘your’ and ‘yours’.
Pros

  • Puts the reader completely in the story.
  • Can make them feel incredibly involved.
  • Can be good for those ‘choose your own destiny’ stories (they are totally not my guilty pleasure… especially the Doctor Who ones…)

Cons

  • Can constantly remind the reader they’re in a story, which is exactly what you don’t want.
  • Can be difficult to write.

Third person – uses ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ and the plurals, as well as ‘they’.
Pros

  • Gives the writer (you!) the greatest flexibility; any character can be the ‘main’.
  • You can swap between characters more easily than first person.
  • Dramatic Irony. 

Cons

  • Multiple characters POV’s can get confusing, very quickly.
  • It can restrict ‘seeing’ inside the characters’ heads. You’ll have to work really hard so that the reader knows what they’re thinking (unless the affect is that they don’t).
  • Each character must have a different voice, and this can be difficult to do.

Of course, in third person you can stick to one character, like most of the Harry Potter series. Or you can switch persons (difficultly, but it can be done), such as Game of Thrones.

Ultimately, just do whatever you think is right for your novel. A post I read said that most beginning writers write from the third person, but my current novel is in 1st; additionally, another (or the same, I can’t remember) post said that lots of thriller books are in 3rd person, but mine’s in 1st. A great thing about being a writer is that you don’t have to break the rules; they bend to your will.

Have fun, and if it doesn’t work, remember that you can always rewrite it!

Questions, comments, thoughts? Shoot! 😀

PS – sorry this was a day late. I went to Scouts and then had an accident (I’m a Young Leader, I shouldn’t be doing anything anyway!) and had a bit of a headache last night, so I went for the easy thing of writing my novel instead. 🙂

Strip Off!

keep-calm-and-strip-off-not-literally

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to walk around naked. And, I’m assuming, neither do your characters.

Characters need clothes (duh). But not all characters dress the same.

Let’s take a historical period – Tudors. Women would wear long dresses, platform shoes if they were out, and often something on their head, like a bonnet or headdress. Men would wear big hats, long coats, shirts and those funny poofy trousers.

But that’s not all. There were jesters (I’m sure you all know what they look like), peasants in cloths and children would often just wear one full dress, especially if they were babies.

Nowadays, there’s a whole array of fashion. Crop tops, jumpers, jackets, t-shirts, long shirts, three-quarter length shirts, shirts with collars, button up shirts, pull over shirts. And that’s just tops.

You have shoes to think about, trousers (or ‘pants’ as Americans like to call them – actually, speaking of pants, you have underwear as well! Are your characters thong people?(!)), head wear, like a motorbike helmet, glasses, scarves, bags…

So when you dress your characters, keep in mind that they don’t all wear the same. One character might be a ‘chav’ – wear jogging bottoms, hooped earrings, cropped t-shirts. Another might be a more casual dresser, and wear jeans, a t-shirt and trainers. Another might be a cosplayer – seriously, imagine how much fun you’d have with that!

Even in historical contexts, not all characters dress the same. They might wear a different colour, have a headband whereas another does not, or have a different trim of lace.

The biggest difference between character’s wear is men and women – traditionally, the trousers vs. dress argument. Keep this in mind when you’re writing. If you’re going for a Mulan-like story, sure, your female character can wear trousers. But, more often than not, this wouldn’t happen. If you’re going for a real-life example, the only crime Joan of Arc was convicted of was wearing men’s clothing.

People don’t wear the same, so characters don’t either. In the novella I’m writing at the moment, one of my characters is going through a phase of wearing long, Lord of the Rings style dresses. Another just wears jeans and a t-shirt. Another likes shirts with collars. Another likes darker coloured clothing.

So mix-and-match with your characters clothing, and make them stand out.

More importantly, make them real.

Top tip: use a website like Doll Divine to have fun at creating different outfits. Sure, it seems childish, but it’s actually strangely addictive…

Questions, comments, thoughts? Shoot! 😀 

Character Imagery

Hi guys! Because I’m really tired, and I haven’t written in a while and am currently distracted, this post may be just a little bit fragmented. Apologies ahead of time, or whatever that sentence should actually be.

Sooooo today, character imagery! How do you make your characters look good to the reader – by showing, not telling.

Think of the most cliche way to describe a character in a book. For me, I think it would be describing in front a mirror, you know; the ‘I looked at my less-than-average features. Long, slick brown hair, piercing blue eyes. My nose was average, petite. I had a smattering of freckles over the top of them. I was an average height,’ etc etc etc. And then you have the cliche ‘I was less than average’, because, actually, they’re quite pretty.

So, how to do it better? First of all, don’t use a mirror scene. Second of all, drop hints. For example: “I hit my head on the bus roof on the top deck, and rubbed it as I sat in the seat, having to sit sideways because bus companies didn’t think that there were tall people in the world,” tells you that the character is, perhaps, a bit more than average tall, and is, perhaps, a bit bitter about it. Or, “As I was running, I pushed a spare strand of light brown hair from my eyes that had missed my grasp, and tucked it behind my ears,” this tells you that she has over than shoulder length light brown hair. ‘How do you know it’s more than shoulder length?’ you ask. – Because it ‘missed [her] grasp’ – meaning that the rest of her hair is tied up. Hehe, call me Sherlock Holmes. 🙂

So yeah, I hope that helped. If you don’t know how to describe your characters, then why not draw them, or, if you really really can’t draw, try a website called Doll Divine and find a decent ‘doll maker’ to design your character on, then just draw your imagery from them; although, no offense, if it’s your character, you should know them well enough to not even have to get up a picture of them to find out. – So you need to make sure you do your planning well.

If you’re planning, get a sheet, or something – and fill each thing in detail. For example, in hair, make sure you do the colour as exact as you can, the length (eg, it was down to her armpit), where the hairline sits, etc.

And if you’re a bit skeptical about using a design thing called ‘Doll Divine’, especially if you’re a guy, then have a look at some of these below, of my characters. If you click on the picture, it’ll link you to the maker. 🙂

Questions, guys? Shoot. Hope this helped.

Alice Frost :)
Alice Frost. 🙂
Janie Harrington. :)
Janie Harrington. 🙂
Leah - although she actually has already died in the book...
Leah – although she actually has already died in the book…
'The Gang' - not the best maker for my characters on this one, for example, both Oscar and Janie have fringes - but it'll do until I can draw them. L-R: Oscar, Scott, Janie & Alice.
‘The Gang’ – not the best maker for my characters on this one, for example, both Oscar and Janie have fringes – but it’ll do until I can draw them. L-R: Oscar, Scott, Janie & Alice.

Are Characters Even Human?

First, before you go ranting to me about how ‘It’s real for us!’, don’t worry, that’s not what this post is about (though, thinking about it, I might do a post on that…). This post is about how human characters are in writing.

What I mean is, sometimes when you read a book, it seems like that characters are, I don’t know, Minecraft ones, who can just go go go. They never sleep, or eat, or poop. I get that writing this such as these can be boring (or disgusting) but please – make them human.

‘BUT HOW?!’ you cry.

Simples.

If they’ve been up all night, say breaking into the library to do research, or sneaking out to see their partner, have them with huge bags under their eyes, and yawning at every break. If they’ve just been running from the bad guy, have them needing a drink and then, just a bit later, bursting for the loo. And remember, if they don’t sleep for three days, they’re not gonna be running very well on pure adrenaline.

And remember, people do eat – your character can’t live off thin air.

You don’t have to put in every time a character does something like pee or eat or sleep, but make it so your readers know they’re not super heroes. For example, you don’t have to write, ‘I sat down and ate a dinner of tomato pasta I had cooked for myself with grated cheese. I had a glass of orange juice. After I had finished my meal, I went to the loo,’ but perhaps something like, ‘I grabbed a bagel on my way out, eating it as I walked down the path.’ (And no, that is not how I write – I write much better (I hope).)

Just do enough to make them seem real. If your character manages to go for days without food or water without breaking a sweat, chances are, at least one or two readers will notice and perhaps question it.

So yeah.

NaBloPoMo Index

Well Hi Newbie, Apparently I’m Your Writer

You know how it is; you’re just sat there, not thinking about anything, or perhaps you’re writing so furiously your fingers feel like they’re on fire. And then – BOOM! – a new character strolls into your head. Their name, much of their background, the place in the story – or perhaps their own story – is fully formed in your mind. And what can you do, but great them kindly, offer them a cup of tea/coffee/Butterbeer and say they can sit down.

Many writers say their story writes itself, and I know all too well how true that is. This time last year, I was doing NaNoWriMo as well, and I remember my character, Rosen, being far too headstrong, and a bit annoying really, running off where she wasn’t supposed to and crying over her father and brother who may have, er, died prematurely. So what can you do?

Help them along. When your characters write you into a plot hole, take a deep breath, give yourself a few slaps around the face with a large trout (Scouts who did JOTI-JOTA should get that) and get those motherfuckers out of there. You’re like their guardian, they’re angel who helps them with all troubles. Sure, you may cry when you kill their beloved goldfish and they are upset for days, but you are there for your characters, much like your best friends.

What makes a character is their background; why are they like the way they are? Their personality, characteristics. Your character relies on you to make sure your readers know that, and you don’t just let them karate-kick their way out of plot holes, before telling your reader that they’ve been doing martial arts from birth. Or they call their parents ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ 5 chapters before you remember to point out that they’re fostered (..unless that’s the story, of course).

Most of all, when your characters get you into trouble (maybe you’ve been staying up under the sheets to write and your parents have caught you, tut tut, or maybe you’ve just written yourself into an awful plot hole), whatever you do – DON’T QUIT ON THEM! Your characters need you, their creator, their author. Love your characters like yourself – because they’re all a reflection of who we really want to be. Believe in your characters, and that’ll reflect in your work. Make them real and readers will emphasize, cry when they do, make them believe they’re their best friends – but, most of all, it’ll make them remember you.

Sorry the advice in there is a little messed around, and I don’t even know if it’s useful. But I kinda hope it is. Good luck to you; and to your poor character! 😉

NaBloPoMo Index